With a career stretching over two decades, comedian, author, and Philly radio host D.L. Hughley takes to the Kimmel Center stage Friday to film two performances for a new comedy special called D.L. Hughley: Contrarian.
Hughley has long been known for his feisty takes and unconventional yet practical views. He is known not just for his work on the stand-up stage but for his sitcom The Hughleys (1998-2002) and his show on CNN, D. L. Hughley Breaks the News.
Although Hughley has already filmed 10 comedy specials, his 11th will be his first in Philadelphia, where his radio show was recently syndicated to WRNB-FM (100.3). “I love [people from] Philly for two reasons,” Hughley said. “They’re bright and they’re fair.” They “make you earn credit,” he said.
Tell me about the stand-up special you’re filming at the Kimmel Center.
It’s funny because I had it written and then Kanye and everybody happened, just when I thought I knew what I wanted to say. So it keeps evolving. The show is called Contrarian and it’s sort of a snapshot of how I see the world right now.
Is it a Netflix special?
It is for Netflix. I remember when the whole thing with Mo’Nique happened, about how much she was getting paid [and the alleged pay disparity between her and other comedians]. I remember I didn’t even ask how much I was getting paid. I asked after I had already signed the deal. Being a comedian, a comedy special is what you do to show people where you are right now.
Did you have any negative experiences while negotiating with Netflix?
No. This is my 11th special and the first one that I’ve done with Netflix. I think ultimately it’s kind of foolish of me, in my estimation, to try to get people to boycott Netflix so that I can get more money. There are people struggling to come up with the $13 or $14 it takes to keep it on. I just didn’t get it.
Do you think there’s any redemption for Kanye?
Any black man that makes white people feel comfortable with slavery is someone I can’t view [as a person]. And Kanye was absolutely right when he said [enslaved black people] had a choice. We could die. We could die or work. We’re the direct descendants of people who survived slavery only to have some idiot say that [the enslaved people] had a choice. They survived slavery so that our lives would be better, not for us to forget everything that they went through. What Kanye did was just like telling Jewish people that the Holocaust didn’t happen.
Any thoughts on Cosby?
I think Cosby did it. I think you have two wealthy men. Both worked at NBC. Both used their power and celebrity to silence women’s voices. Both used their power to litigate women. One was black, one was white. The black man is going to the big house and the white man is in the White House.
You have a book coming out in late June, How Not to Get Shot. What made you want to write a book?
It’s because every time there’s a shooting, there’s some white guy or white girl telling you how it could have been avoided. You know, ‘If they wouldn’t have broken the law …’ or, ‘If they would’ve cooperated …’ Because white people are such experts at everything, I decided to take their advice and write a book about it. So it’s called How Not to Get Shot: And Other Advice from White People, and it’s the funniest book I’ve ever written.
The two black men who were arrested in Starbucks reached an agreement with the city, which will pay them $1 each and set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m going to have to wait and see how it turns out, but I’m pleased to see that someone has an alternative way of thinking about it. It’s certainly a different approach.
Can you tell me about a time when you were discriminated against?
Oh, yes. When people talk about discrimination, they’re not only talking about being called n- or being harassed, although that’s certainly a part of it. But I remember when I was in the process of selling a house in 1998 or 1999. We remodeled the house and (were) about to sell it. When we got [close] to the appraisal, my Realtor told us to take all of our pictures down. When I asked why, [the Realtor] said, ‘Well, you know, if there are pictures of black people in the house, it might devalue [the property].’ I thought, ‘I’m not taking my pictures down.’ So, sure enough, when we got to the appraisal, and the bank called and they found out that the guy marked my house that low because I was black. So he took $75,000 of real money. It’s so expensive to be black and almost no one can afford to do it.
What’s the biggest problem for any comedian?
I think the problem for any artist is to stay connected to your art and what makes you go. There’s a tendency when you’re successful in a certain endeavor to want to replicate it as opposed to being who you are organically. When you’re successful, you want to do it again. But that’s not necessarily the way comedy works.
How has the comedy industry changed since you were in 2000’s Kings of Comedy?
I think that we’re obviously a lot more sensitive. I think there’s also social media. Now you can wake up in the middle of the night and say something crazy.
So do you think that comedy is tainted because the material must be politically correct?
Comedians have an obligation to be authentic, and that takes different forms for different people. But I do think it’s ridiculous to have a platform that you’re not using your perspective to expound on what you see.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from comedy?
As I’ve gotten older and [have] been in the game [for] a long time, I think having the courage to say what you see and being willing to stand by what you believe, regardless of what it costs you, is something that I’ve learned. I don’t know that I would have evolved to that if it wasn’t for comedy.
Is there anything you’re afraid of?
Everything. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of letting myself down or disappointing my children. I’m afraid of what I see happening to this nation. I’m afraid of what may happen to our community. Fear exists so that people stay sharp and focused, so I’m afraid of a lot of things. But I’m also heartened by young black people who seem to have it together, so I think we have a shot.